How do my peers regard industry funding? (Part 3)

This is the last of three posts on an informal survey conducted at the University of Edinburgh’s School of Geosciences, to gauge attitudes among the postgraduate cohort to industry funding of School activities.

The following links, when live, will direct you to parts 1 and 2:

Part 1: Aggregated School of Geosciences responses to Questions 1-8
Part 2: Responses to Questions 1-9, broken down by Research Institute
Part 3: Selected comments from Question 10 (this post)

Part 3: Selected comments from Question 10

The final part of the survey welcomed respondents to write a comment if they so wished. From 146 respondents, 44 comments were submitted. Since I am not a sociologist or social scientist, I offer no real analysis of these data, only a selection of quotes which I found personally interesting. Any bias towards a particular viewpoint exhibited in the quotes, to the exclusion of others, is mine entirely. And there are no doubt many quotes which I could have used, but didn’t, but as my time is also limited (I’m supposed by writing up my PhD at the moment 🙂 ) this is a just a quick overview of opinion.

A few comments related to difficulty in answering the survey questions. As previously acknowledged, survey design is not something I am experienced with, but thankfully enough respondents were able to answer and so I hope the data is useful. Other comments recognised that the questions do not allow for more nuanced views, e.g.

this is not a black and white issue, though it is often polarised as such.

You present the situation as a choice between either having industry funding in the university or not having industry funding. This, I think, obscures the reality of how research is funded today, that not all relations with industry are “toxic”, and doesn’t acknowledge the potential for productive and positive relationships between the academy and industry. On the wider scale, does divestment have to be all or nothing? Or can the university continue to support certain, sustainable and ethical (socially, politically and environmentally) enterprises, whilst no longer investing in others?

Even though my answers were ’neutral’ for several questions, this is not because I am apathetic – rather, it’s that my position is nuanced. A more accurate answer for me in several instances would have been ’it’s complicated’.

Naturally, there were strong views expressed in support of industry:

Fossil fuels companies are very essential funding organizations, and it doesn’t make sence (sic) that the university cut links with specially that almost the whole world is depending on Fossil fuels for electricity, transportation and heating..etc

I am proud of our industry links and believe are and important part of the school.

…and strong views in opposition:

The purpose of the university – as I see it – is to further knowledge that facilitates a better, fairer, more comfortable world for humanity. By continuing to cosy up with industry (especially of this type) we are directly fuelling the destruction of our home for ourselves and posterity. We are a living paradox with false morals.

…providing venues and platforms to oil, gas, and mining representatives within school organized events is anathema to a discourse whose very nature is dedicated to the pursuit of objective knowledge production, free from political and corporate manipulation and influence.

Many views expressed concern over the environment, but rather than reject links to industries, many suggested that links be maintained in order to improve how these companies operate, e.g.

I am not opposed to research funding from the fossil fuel industry to mitigate climate change, e.g. carbon capture and storage.

I presume funding from fossil fuel companies is not exclusively for exploration-related research. For example, I would support research that would lead to fewer leaks during extraction, more efficiency, general mapping of the ocean floor, etc.

I think that there is still scope for working with mining companies. For example they may want to research new ways of preventing environmental damage and land restoration from their activities.

I think that profits generated by fossil fuel / mining companies should be funnelled (sic) back into supporting research into firstly mitigation of environmental damages and secondly into renewable energy.

And finally, this survey was triggered by a debate over funding of the GradSchool Conference. A wide variety of views are offered on this, here are a couple to finish this series of post off:

If a project has industrial applications, the industry should be able to provide funding. However, it is important to distinguish this from the conference, which should be welcoming to everyone in the department (within reason). If this means cutting the ties to oil/gas/mining and having a smaller, cheaper conference, then so be it. We should not be depriving our colleagues of the opportunity to attend so that we can enjoy a slightly nicer location and allow a small minority to network. It is an event for the entire department.

If the primary goal of this conference is for students and staff to mingle and share their research with each other in a pleasant atmosphere, then the ongoing tensions around oil and gas sponsorship appear to make this impossible, and the issue of contention needs to be resolved. If, on the other hand, the primary goal of this conference is so that a particular subset of the school have the opportunity to mingle and exchange knowledge with the oil and gas industry, then be honest and transparent and simply call it what it is, and allow the rest of us to move on.

“Fossil Fuel” companies are energy companies – they’re also the biggest investors of renewables. If energy companies want to fund my hotel room that’s fine with me – they’re not gaining anything from what is effectively an internal conference.

For a conference that is supposed to appeal to as much of the PhD cohort as is reasonable I think the fairest approach is only try to attract sponsors that do not repulse a significant number of PhD students

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2 thoughts on “How do my peers regard industry funding? (Part 3)

  1. Pingback: How do my peers regard industry funding? (Part 2) | Vitamin CCS

  2. Pingback: How do my peers regard industry funding? (Part 1) | Vitamin CCS

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